It’s easy to start feeling hopeless after you’ve gone through a traumatic event like an assault. Many people who are experiencing the direct aftereffects of trauma might think: will I ever be the same again? Will I ever get through this pain and out the other side? Is it possible to completely heal from trauma?
The short answer is: yes! It’s 100% possible to completely heal from trauma, and people do it every day. You’ve survived the trauma, so the worst is over. Read on for the long answer.
Related Blog: Can I Heal and Still Be the Same Person?
How to Heal from Trauma
Not everyone who survives a traumatic event develops a mental health problem. The feelings that you’re feeling after going through a trauma are normal, and any human being would experience them in your shoes.
Sometimes, people are able to heal from trauma without the support of professional treatment. Here are some tips on how to take care of yourself after going through a trauma so that you can get closer and closer towards getting back to your old self.
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One of the most profound ways you can nurture and heal yourself after you’ve gone through a trauma is by finding ways to make meaning out of the suffering that you’ve been through. This isn’t a platitude meant to minimize your pain. Making meaning doesn’t mean forgetting your traumatic experience, but finding things that bring fulfillment to your life now.
Many people make meaning through volunteering or giving back in some other way. The way you do this could be directly related to the trauma you experienced, but it doesn’t have to be. For example, some sexual assault survivors volunteer for a sexual assault hotline.
Another way people create meaning out of their suffering is through artistic endeavours. If this is something that interests you, you don’t need to be a professional artist or musician to use the arts for healing. Start creating, and see what happens.
Isolating yourself is one of the worst things you can do after you’ve been through a trauma. It’s okay to need some alone time, but don’t fall for the misconception that nobody can understand what you’re going through.
Even if your friends can’t understand, there are people in the world who do. If you don’t feel like you can’t reach out to your closest friends and family members, consider joining a support group. Some sort of social support is key for healing from trauma.
Don’t avoid it
When you’ve recently gone through a traumatic event, you may want to avoid all reminders about what happened. But avoidance is actually a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder, and not a sign of a healthy recovery.
Try not to avoid people, places, and things that remind you of what happened. If you’re having a hard time confronting these things, this may be a sign that you need the support of a professional mental health therapist -- something we’ll talk about later on.
Connect to your body
Physical activity has been proven time and time again as one of the best and most effective ways to uplift your mood and ease anxiety. Try to get your heart rate up on most days -- you should start to feel the mental health benefits of physical exercise.
Exercise can also help us get grounded in our body. Traumatic experiences are often stored in our bodies, something that trauma expert Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk talks about in his famous book, The Body Keeps the Score. Use physical exercise, and other mind-body practices, to connect to and take care of your body.
Finally, trauma and its aftereffects induces your nervous system’s stress response. You can learn how to counteract the effects of stress with the relaxation response. One of the best ways to call forward your body’s relaxation response is through deep breathing.
Practice diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, every day or when you’re feeling anxious. There are many guides on how to do this online. Find a comfortable seated or lying down position, and put your hand over your belly. Then, inhale into the deepest part of your belly. Your hand should rise. Repeat this until you feel calm.
Signs You Need Professional Trauma Therapy
The above tools won’t work for everyone. Around 20% of people who experience a traumatic event will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a diagnosable mental health condition. In these cases, mental health therapy might be necessary to recover from trauma completely.
Here are some signs that you may need the support of a mental health therapist to heal from trauma.
You’re having nightmares or flashbacks
Terrifying nightmares and flashbacks (feeling like you’re experiencing the trauma all over again) are symptoms of PTSD. If you’re having nightmares or flashbacks that haven’t gone away with time, then it may be a sign that you need mental health therapy.
You’re jumpy and hyperaware of your surroundings
Being jumpy, easily startled, and hyperaware of everything that’s going on around you is called hypervigilance. Hypervigilance is also a symptom of PTSD.
You’ve started feeling severely anxious or depressed
Going through trauma can affect your mood. If you aren’t experiencing any symptoms of PTSD, but you’re feeling depressed or anxious, then a mental health therapist can help.
You can’t connect with anybody
If you’re isolating from your close relationships, and finding it hard to connect to anybody around you, then you may need the support of therapy. Social isolation will only inhibit your trauma recovery, and a therapist can help you find ways back to connecting with people.
You’re having trouble functioning day-to-day
Finally, if the mental health effects of the traumatic event are so disruptive that it’s affecting your day-to-day functioning (like being able to go to work or practice basic self-care), then that may be a sign that you need to see a mental health therapist.
The most important thing to remember is that whether you do it with the support of friends and family or the support of a mental health therapist, it is 100% possible to completely heal from trauma and continue on to live a meaningful life. Your life doesn’t need to end with a traumatic event. Although it may be hard to see now, there is fulfillment and joy waiting for you.